The University of Minnesota, Crookston football team is a perennial doormat in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Earlier this season, the Golden Eagles beat Southwest Minnesota State to snap a 39-game conference losing streak that extended to September 2008.
But don't suggest to Minot State University coach Paul Rudolph that his squad may be favored when the two teams meet at 2:30 p.m. today at Herb Parker Stadium.
"We're 1-6 in our first year in the league," Rudolph said. "If we consider ourselves a favorite, then we got problems of our own."
MDN File Photo
Minot State University freshman receiver Porter Sturm runs with the ball in front of a University of Minnesota-Duluth defender during an Oct. 13 game at Herb Parker Stadium. MSU hosts the University of Minnesota, Crookston at 2:30 p.m. today.
For the second consecutive week, MSU faces a run-first opponent. But unlike No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth last weekend, Crookston (1-6) has a clear star.
Senior running back Richard Haley led the conference in rushing last season and averages 117 yards per game this year. The NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars recently showed interest in the 6-foot, 205-pounder, Crookston coach Paul Miller said.
"He's a tough, tough kid," Miller said. "He's very durable and very competitive. He can make you miss and he can put his shoulder down, so he's a good football player."
The Golden Eagles average just 139 passing yards per game. Rudolph said the UMC offense is well-coached and sometimes tricky, but it leans heavily on Haley.
"There's a reason why (NFL teams) are looking at him," he said. "He is a skilled kid. They probably haven't thrown it as well, but they have some kids that are capable. But by far, everything they do goes through that running back."
While Crookston relies on a steady ground game, the Beavers have an explosive, but error-prone, passing attack. Interceptions and dropped passes and have plagued MSU, keeping the Beavers from extending drives and giving their defense ample rest.
After a slow start to the season, freshman Porter Sturm emerged as MSU's top receiving threat. He has scored five touchdowns and averages nearly 18 yards per catch.
"I think the key matchups are our wideouts versus their DBs," Rudolph said. "They got some skill, they got a couple kids in their secondary that can really run. I think how well we do in that matchup is gonna be vital."
One of those UMC defensive backs, senior strong safety Cecil Brown, ranks ninth in the nation with 80 tackles.
"He has been outstanding and that's kind of an understatement," Miller said.
Something that's not understated is the importance both teams are placing on today's game. After rough patches against tough opponents, each squad is trying to avoid the bottom of the overall NSIC standings.
"In this conference, you can't take anyone lightly," MSU junior linebacker Josh Weidler said. "I think we're hungry for a win, that's for sure. This week, we've been really game-planning. After that Duluth game, they just came out and they rolled over top of us. We didn't play well and they're a good team ... but we've gotta come out (Saturday) ready to play all four quarters."